The world has some wonderful religions. I enjoy learning about them and wondering at the beauty within each of them. I tried out a few of them when I was younger, and I tried out not being religious as well.
Eventually, I became a Christian. Or more accurately, I returned to the baptism I received when I was an infant. It was a long struggle all through my 20s. I had a lot of stuff to sort through with this faith. The Spirit was patiently leading me towards Christ.
In the end, the reason that I’m so solidly convinced by Christianity is this: No other religion or philosophy explains so well the terrible tendencies of humanity, while also giving us the greatest hope for its redemption. I’ll say a bit about each of these.
First, we know humanity’s terrible tendencies. You only have to look at the news to know it. We all bear the scars of it, of the harm we have done to ourselves or the harm done to us by others. We, as a species and as individuals, can be selfish, greedy, violence, vengeful, prejudiced, cruel, and dismissive. Few of us are terrible people, but none of us is perfect in our love and compassion and charity. It’s just the way it is: “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” [Romans 3:23]. It’s not judgmental to point this out, since it’s a universal state. I’m no less a sinner than anyone else I’ve ever met.
Several of the world’s religions and philosophies note this and wonder about it. Christianity’s version of it, in a very general sense, is that something went wrong at the very beginning, and we are all born into, and inevitably distorted by, a broken system. It’s not your fault, nor my fault, nor our parents or grandparents fault, not anyone else’s. It’s just the human condition. We cannot fix it on our own.
It’s bad. Fleming Rutledge writes, “From beginning to end, the Holy Scriptures testify that the predicament of fallen humanity is so serious, so grave, so irremediable from within, that nothing short of divine intervention can rectify it.”
And that’s the other half of it, why I’m convinced by Christianity. It is honest about the human condition, but it that doesn’t mean that things are hopeless. At the heart of the Christian story is the story of Jesus who is God’s divine intervention for our salvation.
No human could fix what was broken; only divine intervention could do it. But what was broken is humanity, and so the divine one had to become human. That’s the incarnation in a nutshell. But the fixing of the broken world? That happens on the cross.
We sometimes say “He died for us” (a Biblical term, of course) but it is important not only that he died but how he died. The cross was a horrible way to die. I don’t say it to be gory or to make you feel guilty. I say it to draw your attention to the necessity of the cross. The crucifixion was a horror — shameful, painful, lonely, long, public, political, all of it. But human sinfulness is just has horrible, and yet we are very talented at justifying it, or mitigating it, or ignoring it.
The crucifixion is good news. It is good news because it is the purest statement that God can possible make about God’s intention to bring about justice and mercy. So you who have ever suffered injustice, and you who have ever cried out for justice, and you who have ever hungered for mercy, know that the cross is God’s answer to it. Then, and now.
While the crucifixion happened in history a long time ago, the crucifixion, and its counterpart, the resurrection, have eternal consequences. The Christ that we follow is the one who has already endured the worst of human behavior and loves us anyway. God the Father whom we adore and worship is the one who responded to the slaughter of the Son by raising him and glorifying him.
In the Cross, the Lord testifies to the lengths he will go to rescue us from our own destruction. It’s horrifying to hear the Passion Gospels, as we will on Palm Sunday and Good Friday. But then it’s always horrifying to hear what we humans are capable of doing. Make sure you also hear the good news.
God will not give up on us.